Thursday, February 14, 2013

Upstate New York II: Orchids at Moreau Lake State Park, Paddling the Hudson River, and Rockwell Falls

*Part I* *Part II* *Part III*

I was recently going through some shelved drafts on blogger the other day when I noticed a specific post that had completely slipped my mind and unfortunately fallen through the cracks.  Sitting halfway finished from this past summer was the next installment of my trip to visit my good friend Jackie in the southern Adirondacks of upstate New York. It's now going on seven months since I returned from one of the most beautiful areas in the the northeast but luckily the details are still fresh in my mind and ready to be shared, albeit a bit late.  It's definitely a marathon of a post but I'd hate to leave any of the fun out on a jam packed day of botanizing and exploring.  If you missed out on part one of this journey you can click right here to catch up and see what you've missed from the previous day (lots of orchids, I'll promise you that!).

Day two dawned as bright, clear, and cool as the previous and found Jackie and I tying her two lightweight, single person canoes to our cars.  Today had some paddling on the Hudson River planned and I couldn't wait to get my feet wet and glide across its waters.  But not before a stop at a nearby state park to finally see the other major reason for my visit, other than the day before's white fringed orchid.

Mud Pond in Moreau Lake state park

Only a short drive to the north of Jackie's hometown of Saratoga Springs lies Moreau Lake state park.  The park is over 4,000 acres in size and offers a long list of outdoor activities for any time of the year but we were there for the flora!  Jackie's friend, Sue met us at the road pull off to once again join us in the morning's botanical foray.  Our hike took us in a loop through a mixed oak and pine forest and around the perimeter of Mud Pond.  The shallow and still water was ensconced with hundreds of white water-lilies (Nymphaea odorata) and the air abuzz with dragonflies and damselflies darting about under the brilliant sapphire sky.

Your blogger photographing some aquatic wildflowers

Hiking along the margins of the pond revealed much more going on and blooming than just the water-lilies. Mixed in near the shoreline were small yellow flowers that belonged to the common bladderwort (Utricularia macrorhiza).  They seemed to float and hang over the water as if it dangled on strings like a small marionette.  Another was the pink wands of water smartweed (Persicaria amphibia) emerging from the water in the top right of the photograph above.  Most of the other Persicaria taxa are easily overlooked and insignificant but not the water smartweed.

White water-lily, common bladderwort, and water smartweed in bloom

My friend Jackie took the photo from above of a preoccupied me snapping this photo of the three blooming aquatic plants in the shallow waters of Mud Pond.  I found it kind of neat to have both perspectives captured at the same time.  It wouldn't be too easy to reproduce these results when in the field by myself.

Mixed oak and pine forest

Moving away from the water and back into the forest greeted us with a scene typical of upstate New York's forests.  A healthy mixture of black oak (Quercus velutina), red oak (Q. rubra), and white pine (Pinus strobus) dominated the canopy with the dense shade below making for a relatively open under story full of interesting plants.

American chestnut
Spotted wintergreen

Overlooked by the oaks and pines were numerous stump sprouts of American chestnut (Castanea dentata) that had been struck down by the blight in the past.  None were much larger than five or six inches in diameter but it still felt good to actually look up and stand in the shade of our true native chestnut's saw-toothed leaves. Some other species dwelling in the dappled light of the under story was striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum), mountain maple (A. spicatum), spotted wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata), prince's pine (C. umbellata), teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens), tree clubmoss (Dendrolycopodium spp.), groundcedar (Diphasiastrum digitatum), and one very special plant I had the highest of hopes to see in bloom...

Checkered Rattle-snake Plaintain - Goodyera tesselata

Anyone who reads this blog with any kind of regularity must know by now I'm orchid-crazy and trying to see all of Ohio's indigenous species; extant and extirpated.  The checkered rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera tesselata) happens to be one of the latter.  It was collected in Ohio only once back in 1929 in Ashtabula county and hasn't been seen since.  It's much more common to the north in the Great Lake states and New England.  So when Jackie said she knew where some consistently grows I jumped at the chance to cash in on another life list orchid!

Close up view of the Goodyera's flowers
Basal evergreen rosettes

One of the classic and unmistakable characteristics of the Goodyera genus is its basal rosettes of evergreen leaves. These thick and leathery photosynthesis factories are detailed works of art with their intricate designs and patterns.  Closer examination of the flowering spike shows dozens of miniscule and charismatic flowers. Perhaps it's just me but I think each individual inflorescence's design is reminiscent of Darth Vader's iconic helmet.

Another much appreciated action shot courtesy of Jackie

Under normal circumstances I experience a certain amount of pressure as the camera's shutter clicks away; it's very important to me to accurately capture the detail of the plant and/or habitat.  Back home I know I'll have other opportunities if my end results aren't up to par with my expectations but the checkered rattlesnake-plantain was a completely different story.  The 11 hour drive to specifically see this and a few other plants only added more weight and strain on me to make the most of this one time event!

Bear oak (Quercus ilicifolia)
Cow-wheat (Melampryum pratense)

Growing among the orchids were a couple other plants I was pleasantly surprised to finally get to make acquaintances with.  On the left is cow-wheat (Melampryum pratense), an often over-looked member of the figwort family (Scrophulariaceae) that is quite rare in Ohio and listed as a threatened species.  Jackie was the first to spot it in bloom and call it out, which I excitedly rushed over to.  Jackie and Sue were surprised at my reaction to such a frequent plant but quickly understood once I explained its scarcity in my home state. One person's common-as-dirt wildflower is another person's life plant!  An additional plant I'd long wanted to see was one of the shrubby oak species that don't occur anywhere in Ohio.  This particular one is called bear oak (Quercus ilicifolia) or sometimes referred to as scrub oak.  It rarely attains heights of more than 20 feet; quite a change from its other oak kin.

Paddling on the Hudson River

After spending the morning photographing the orchids and hiking around Mud Pond we decided to break for lunch along the shores and enjoy the fresh air and warm breeze.  Following lunch we packed back into the car and said our goodbyes to Sue, who unfortunately had to head into work and could not join Jackie and I on our Hudson River paddle.  We soon arrived at the Hudson and unfastened our canoes, hot with anticipation to wet our paddles.  The second my canoe slide into the cool, still waters my mind became at ease and my soul became one with the river.  There are truly few other remedies as powerful as being on the open water with nothing but the blue sky and breeze in your hair.

Along this stretch of the Hudson River are a series of dams that control water flow, which in turn creates a lake-like appearance and attitude to the water.  Without much current at all you are free to skim across the deep blue waters at your own pace without a care in the world.

American chestnut male catkins and maturing husk

We slowly navigated our canoes along the shoreline to keep an eye out for any summer wildflowers starting to grace the banks with their striking colors.  I soon began to notice trees hanging over the waters that had something on them that I had never seen before.  American chestnuts that had survived the blight long enough to reach maturity were in fruit!  In the photo above you can see the spent male catkins still attached and the maturing spiky bur.  It had long been a dream of mine to finally see a mature flowering/fruiting American chestnut.  Believe it or not I consider this find as memorable as the orchids.

Hudson River island hopping with our canoes

In the middle of the Hudson was a series of rocky islands that Jackie frequently visits for their aquatic wildflower displays and peaceful atmosphere.  Obviously I wasn't the first to step foot on these dry exposures of granite but as my canoe made landfall and my feet squished into the muck and sand, I felt a measure of giddy excitement for having the islet all to mine and Jackie's selves.

Lone flowering plant of cardinal flower
Pipewort and golden hedge-hyssop

The islands certainly weren't short on interesting plants and had a diverse arrangement of aquatic vegetation. Species like cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Allegheny monkeyflower (Mimulus ringens), grass-leaved arrowhead (Sagittaria graminea), marsh speedwell (Veronica scutellata), dwarf St. Johnswort (Hypericum mutilum), marsh St. Johnswort (Triadenum virginicum), steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa), blue vervian (Verbena hastata), pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum), and golden pert (Gratiola aurea) abounded in the saturated soils and standing water.

Golden pert (Gratiola aurea)
Golden pert (Gratiola aurea)

The most interesting of all the flowering plants on the granite islets had to belong to the rich, golden blooms of golden pert (Gratiola aurea).  Also known as golden hedge-hyssop, this plant is quite uncommon and local throughout its range and seems to be most frequent in the northeast.  Golden pert is right at home growing completely submerged in water in dense vegetative carpets and mats near the shorelines and banks.  You would never know of its presence unless the water level drops low enough to expose the plants to the air and trigger their bloom en masse.  Lucky for us the water levels were very cooperative and allowed the golden pert to put on an amazing show.

Hudson River just upstream from Rockwell Falls near Lake Luzerne-Hadley

After enjoying the comforts of a long paddle on the Hudson, Jackie and I tied our canoes back onto our cars and headed off to the Rockwell Falls area of the river.  Our plan was to explore the exposed shorelines and take a look at a very intriguing and mysterious plant that Jackie had found a few days prior.

Rockwell Falls on the Hudson
Naturally-worn holes in the granite

Even with the water levels being quite low, Rockwell Falls was still a pouring torrent of white water, slowly but surely wearing away more rock as it boiled downstream.  One of the most fascinating aspects of the falls was the presence of nearly perfect holes in the rock.  They appeared to be created with man-made precision but Jackie explained that in times of higher water little pebbles collect in the rock's depressions and are spun around in a spin cycle motion that gradually wears the rock down lower and lower, creating these pot holes. Pretty cool if you ask me!

Mudflats full of the mystery plant
Slender milfoil (Myriophyllum tenellum)

Along the shores in the newly exposed mudflats of the Hudson grew the mystery plant Jackie had found earlier. The night before I took a look at a specimen Jackie had brought home with her after the initial discovery. After going through some keys and illustrations in my Gleason and Cronquist manual of vascular plants (or my botany bible as I like to call it), I determined it to be slender milfoil (Myriophyllum tenellum) from its unique flowering stem and habit.  Upon seeing them in person there was little doubt on what it was. As it turns out it is a real rare treat to catch this aquatic plant in bloom.  It typically grows in areas of deep water and remains in its vegetative state until the scare moments where water levels drop low enough to expose the mats to the air and activate it; much like the golden pert.  I have since forgotten the gentleman's name, but one of eastern North America's most distinguished and published experts on aquatic vegetation (if I recall correctly he co-authored the manual on eastern North America's aquatic flora) emailed Jackie in response to her queries that it was indeed slender milfoil and in all his decades of researching and exploring our aquatic flora had never seen it in flower! We were sure to grab several specimens to press and pass out to those who were sure to be interested.

Beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta)
Beaked hazelnut (L) vs American hazelnut (R)

Finished with our slender milfoil mission, Jackie and I decided to call it a day and start heading back to Saratoga Springs.  However, there was one quick pit stop on the way to see a key species I had very high hopes of seeing while in New York.  Along a bike path in large thickets grew the common American hazelnut and the Ohio extirpated beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta).  Looking at the picture above left, I don't think it's too difficult to understand why it got the name 'beaked' hazelnut.  It was recorded and collected only twice in Ohio: once in Adams county in the early 1900's and again in the 50's in Ashtabula county.  It hasn't been seen since and is considered extirpated from the state.  It was the perfect cherry to the top of the massive botany sundae we enjoyed that day.

It's about time I got this post finished and published but in a weird way I'm glad I waited this long because this really gave me the chance to look back and reminisce on my fond memories and experiences of this day with Jackie.  I have one more post to complete this upstate New York trilogy, so stay tuned!  Here's hoping it comes out much, much faster!

*Part I* *Part II* *Part III*


  1. Very nice trip, photos and story! Thanks for going to the sharing effort.

    Maybe this is something else remaining half done on your shelf... I'm still anxiously awaiting your mentioned Helianthus blog! :-)

    Ron Gamble

    1. Thanks, Ron! I hope to have part three up soon so stay tuned! The promised Helianthus blog is in the infancy stages and IS coming but can't say when for sure. It's another doozy of a post!

  2. Very simple nature. But shot some wonderful pictures. You are a great photographer. I a glad to read your post.

  3. A great report on your trip. Lots of great photos. Back in 2008, we passed through Moreau State Park on our way to Maine (from Ohio). It was in late July and the Efts were very active. I have some photos at

    Fort Loramie, Ohio